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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Technical Difficulties

After storms, computer problems, and camera problems, I sometimes wonder why and how humans made it to the top of the food chain. I think it must have been due to sheer perseverance.

One of my favorite teacher memories is trying to figure out a lock on a large storage container to get some equipment-- the teacher who was helping me couldn't figure it out either. After what seemed like a long period of trying, he stood up and pounded his chest like a gorilla and made the accompanying noises. We both started laughing, tried again, and eventually got it open.
Sometimes you just have to stop and take a breather, remember that you're only a human, then laugh and start over.
So, after a few of those moments, here are the latest paintings:

12 x 18 Chalk Pastel on Canson Watercolor Paper
Click here to buy print:
Click here to see more pieces inspired by the Ancient Egyptians:
"Der Fisch"
12 x 18 Pastel (oil/ chalk) on Canson Watercolor Paper
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Click here to see more pieces featuring animals:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why I Don't Paint Snow

It's winter time, and after about five straight days of rain, it's tempting to look for something "winter-like" to paint. I see all of the beautiful holiday art, with snow covered cabins and silent forests, and wonder why I have no inclination to paint such things. I think my family and friends could probably explain it. Anyone who's known me for a period of time knows "Niki hates snow!"

For the record, I think snow on distant mountains is pretty. Even that lost its appeal for a while; as a teacher at a school in a wind corridor beneath the San Bernardino Mountains, I spent many a miserable recess period out on playground duty, freezing as the wind whipped down from the cold snowy mountains. Snow to me means miserable wet and cold and the opportunity to fall on my butt-- and that's about it.

I did try to paint a winter scene in an art class, and it looked like a bad attempt at a Thomas Kinkade imitation. I may try one again in the future, but for now I'll be sticking with what I know and love: winter in Southern California, which, present abominable weather aside, usually means gentle warm days and pleasantly uncrowded beaches.

People complain about our lack of seasons, but I think they just may be misunderstanding how lucky we are. I've come to prefer winter compared to spring and summer, and look forward to those 80 degree days where we sneak down to the beach and listen to everyone say "THIS is January?"

The painting below almost didn't survive-- after a painful painting session (literally-- my shoulders were aching), I put it aside to take a break. I strengthened some of the darker areas and smeared a little. I did notice the painting looks better from farther back-- probably part of the abstract style I used to show this poor old disintegrating half a frisbee, a typical sight on an empty beach in winter time.
"Summer's Treasure, Winter's Trash"
9 x 12 Chalk Pastel on Canson Mi Teintes Paper

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dark toned Strathmore: a striking backdrop

I've gotten pretty fond of my Strathmore plum-toned pastel paper. When I first began using chalk pastels, I was afraid of the darker-toned papers. I knew that I would have to keep a cool head while using them, because the whole point of dark paper is to add striking lights to create your painting while leaving the tone of the paper as one of the values. This means using restraint, which is not something that comes naturally to me.

Since I've had trouble concentrating lately, forcing myself to stick to a simple subject with limited use of color gives me a good set of guidelines as I work. This is why I turn again and again to Ancient Egyptian pottery-- I can focus on shapes, lights, and darks, without getting too emotionally attached to what I'm painting. Art should be emotional, right? For me, not always. Painting with my head rather than my heart is good discipline, and usually produces a nice result.

I called this piece "Majestic," because this particular pot had a strong presence in the display at the museum. I used the lightest yellow possible to create the lights on the plum-toned background. A little pinkish-red and hot orange warmed the piece up a bit. There wasn't too much smearing involved, as I'm still enjoying a broken color phase in my work.

"Majestic" 9 x 12 Chalk pastel on Strathmore paper
Click here to buy print:
Click here to see more Ancient Egyptian inspired works;

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Discovering Fingerpainting

"Pretties for Kat" 8 x 11 Watercolor and Pastel on Paper

We started with the usual materials... taped down paper, watercolors, a tiny bit of water and a couple of brushes. I've been thinking lately about why I don't use the paints and brushes as often anymore, and it's most likely that for me, the brushes get between the direct connection between medium and paper. My toddler made this discovery last night.

I began to swirl the paint around the paper, blocking in some floral shapes. My daughter made a couple of her own swipes with the brush, but lost interest quickly. She began to dip her fingers in the paint itself, and spent the rest of the time happily dipping and dotting, trying out each color for herself. Normally, clings to my side, but this time she was so absorbed in her painting that I was able to walk away and let her finish up on her own.

So, I finished the work by myself, letting the watercolors dry and blocking in some bright chalk pastels later. I wasn't sure what to call it, but later decided to name it "Pretties for Kat," as part of a tribute started in the Red Bubble group The Sisterhood for a 23 year-old lost a few weeks ago.

Click here to see other flower tributes:

Click here to read more about my experiences painting with my toddler:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Another Big Flower...

"Reaching Out" 12 x 18 Pastel (oil and chalk) on Paper
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Another big flower... another mixture of oil and chalk...

Same subject, different day? How is it that painting in a series can be comforting, yet challenging? And is it still considered a series if you take a break and paint something different for a while?

I'm not sure I would call anything I paint a "series," except maybe my Egyptian-inspired pieces. Yet, these large flowers call to me often, as does the need to paint them in oil and chalk. I'm not sure it's the subject matter and medium I crave in these cases, though. I think it's the escape into painting without having to plan too much, or worry about perspective and straight lines, or about capturing a likeness. It's the freedom of painting loose, with a general destination in mind, but absolute freedom in how I reach it-- and absolute confidence that I know may way there just well enough to try a slightly different path.

As a child, my sister and I were lucky enough to live on a piece of property with 200 acres of natural reserve land behind it. It was just scrub brush, hills, riverbeds, and trees, but it offered hours of exploration. We spent entire days tromping through the area, usually heading for a large bunch of trees that appeared to be miles away from our house. We took different ways to get there, but for some reason we aimed for those trees on a regular basis.

Some things remained the same on those trips: we usually found a large creek along the way, which told us we were getting close. We always had to take the dogs (on mom's orders), and they seemed to know where they were going, or were at least happy to lead the way. Our feet always ached before we even got there, and we always returned home hungry and tired. And every time we reached that lonely old bunch of trees, there stood the empty, dilapidated barn that looked like it would fall down in the rushing breeze. We would stay just long enough to get the creeps, then would turn around and head home.

When I paint my familiar subjects, the experience is like those childhood trips. I start out with the comfort of my usual tools, and make a general map of where I'm going with a quick sketch. I happily block in the darkest darks, the lightest lights, and the bright colors. I sit back for a minute and assess how close I am to the destination, then return to my journey and begin to work on some details.

I usually finish my work the way I finished those day-long journeys: worn out and hungry, with an aching body (probably from sitting on the hard floor so I can make a bigger mess). I may be eager for a different destination the next day, but I know I'll return to the familiar one again soon, because the experience was just challenging enough to offer something new, but comforting enough to give me confidence.

For the record, I wouldn't let my own child wander around the boonies like this-- the days of wandering free for little girls and their dogs are long gone, I'm afraid. I'm grateful I had that freedom, though. It taught me to weather challenges and look for patterns that would lead to success, which are skills I can use in any aspect of life.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Canson Watercolor Paper-- Still Haven't Used it for Watercolors!

"Winter Meeting" 12 x 18 Chalk Pastel on Paper
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Click here to see more of my animal themed art:

I tried this subject earlier on a small piece of paper, and between the tiny size of the paper and the bluntness of the pastels (I don't use the pencils too often), there just wasn't enough room. I've always liked this idea though-- birds at sunset in Oceanside, California, on one of those winter days when there are more birds than people on the beach. So, I decided to give it another try with large Canson watercolor paper and "winter" colors, which for me are gold and purple (at least at the beach!)

Instead of trying to realistically copy the photo, I went for a looser approach, and did only a little smearing at the end. I tried to keep the colors in the water broken, with harder edges, and the foreground softer to show the wet sand. There really were boats on the horizon too that day-- some of those winter days are just as warm as summer days, and even more peaceful without the crowds.

Click here to see more beach themed art:

"Rock and Flowers" 12 x 18 Oil & Chalk Pastel on Paper
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For this next piece, I really felt like working loose again, but this time with the freedom of movement that the oil pastels give me. When I use oil pastel, I always prefer to mix it with chalk, because I enjoy the push and pull between the two textures.

This is an image of a large rock and some flowers and bushes at Glen Ivy Hot Springs in California. I used the bright oil pastels for the darks and some of the plants and flowers, and rubbed in chalk for the lighter parts. This piece was a joy to create, because the physical experience of painting was the most important part for me. I enjoyed sliding the oil pastels around on the Canson watercolor paper, which gripped the medium nicely, and scrubbing in the chalk, which the paper also
held without much dust.

I didn't do much smearing on this piece either-- I'm having a lot of fun with raw color these days.

Click here to see more floral inspired art:

Click here to see more experiments with oil and chalk pastel:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Painting Fast and Loose with Pastel (Egyptian Jug)

"Egyptian Jug" (9 x 10.5 Chalk Pastel on Paper)
Click here to buy print:

There are three big reasons I love using chalk pastels: bright colors, versatility, and convenience. I've been having trouble getting myself to the paint board lately, and when I do, I have trouble liking what I see when the work is finished. I'm finding that the more difficult and complicated life gets, the more stripped down and simple the subjects I am painting...

For this piece, I took a piece of lightly toned Canson Mi Teintes paper (9 x 12) and made a light sketch of the shapes I wanted. In order to focus on what I was painting, I turned the reference photo and paper upside down, offering my right brain a chance to take over. I don't like to get too dependent on this trick, but I figured it would take my mind off the barrage of problems I've been worried about. It worked, and I got the basic shape down without interruption. I then flipped it back over and began blocking in lights and darks, working quickly and using a lot of broken color. I left some of the paper untouched for the lighter parts of the jug.

With a little smearing (not too much, so I could keep some of the brighter colors) and a few sharp edges, the piece was finished. I did cheat a little and crop it so that the jug shifted more to the left, so the size ended up closer to 9 x 1o or 11. The whole thing took about a half hour. I would love to find more time to get out those acrylics or mix some media, but am grateful I have that ready supply of pastels to keep me going in difficult times. I've also found that painting with time constraints forces me to focus on the important parts of the picture and get it done, rather than muddle around and never finish the piece.

As a side note, I just realized why this piece makes me smile-- it reminds me (I have no idea why) of the bratty sugar bowl in the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone. It looks like it's going to wobble around and give me a hard time.

To see more Egyptian inspired art, click here: